Children and HIV and AIDS

Calling attention to the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African family at the 14th ICASA Conference

© UNICEF Nigeria/Yahaya/2005
Elijah Cliff Ishaku, who has been living with HIV for six years, and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah speaking at a press conference at the 14th ICASA Conference in Abuja, Nigeria.

By Gerrit Beger

ABUJA, Nigeria, 8 December 2005 – “We are living daily with death staring us in our eyes.”  With these words Elisha Cliff Ishaku, who has been living with HIV for six years, brought a chilling twist of reality to ICASA, the 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa – and Africa’s leading forum for discussion about HIV/AIDS issues.

“Who is the next person to die?” asked the 23-year-old father of delegates and journalists attending a press conference. “Can’t we stop these needless deaths? Are we helpless?”
Lack of information helps spread infection

His testimony to the world’s media shed light on the dramatic impact that HIV/AIDS is having on the family. Elisha contracted the virus when he was 17 years old, but because he did not have the correct information to protect himself, he later passed the virus to his young wife. Their two-year-old son is also positive – during her pregnancy, his wife was not offered any services to stop the transmission of the virus. For Elisha’s family, access to adequate information treatment, care and support still remains a challenge.

“I first heard of AIDS when I was in secondary school, but never really knew the mode of transmission, nor prevention. I only knew that it is a disease specifically ‘reserved’ for prostitutes, and thought it had nothing to do with me as long as I avoided sexual relations with prostitutes. I thought there was no harm in having sex with girls otherwise. I was just behaving like every other young Nigerian or African. The vital information was simply missing,” said Elisha.

© UNICEF Nigeria/Yahaya/2005
Elijah Cliff Ishak and his two-year-old son, Cliff, who is also HIV-positive.

Both UNAIDS and UNICEF have stressed that the response to the pandemic in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been inadequate, and that the African family as an entity and as a central target for interventions has not been given the necessary priority.

“Although some current efforts are commendable, let’s be brutally honest with ourselves: our efforts fall significantly short of what’s needed to protect the integrity of families in Africa.” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, speaking seated next to Ishaku. “Our interventions continue to protect, care, support and treat individuals but ignore the very cornerstone of African society – the family.”

Family life decimated

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has taken a devastating toll on the African continent, with more than two million adults and children dying from the disease in 2005 alone. In addition it has destroyed the fabric of the lives of millions of families. More than 12 million of African children have lost one or both their parents to AIDS.

“Within the family, it is undeniable that AIDS is redefining the very meaning of childhood for millions,” continued Salah, “depriving children of many of their human rights including the care, love and affection of their parents. Of their teachers and other role models. Of education and options for the future…of protection against exploitation and abuse.”

Unite for children

UNICEF has been calling attention to the fact that not enough resources have been invested to protect and save these children and that children have been largely missing form the global response to the pandemic. To reverse this trend UNICEF and its partners – together with the UN Secretary-General, national governments, UNAIDS, its co-sponsors and other partners – have launched a Global Campaign: UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS. The campaign seeks to place children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS at centre of the global response through focused efforts to scale up proven interventions in four areas of concern: primary prevention, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, paediatric care, and the protection, care and support for orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

“Let’s all unite against HIV/AIDS. Let’s unite for children and the African family, and most importantly translate your words into actions that will help us who are directly affected with no further delay,” Elisha concluded, expressing hope that things will change for the better – and soon.

Yves Willemot also contributed to this report




8 December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on the powerful testimony of one HIV-positive father to delegates at the 14th ICASA conference.

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